Essay on Negation: For a Linguistic Anthropology (The Italian List) (Hardcover)
As speaking animals, we continuously make use of an unassuming grammatical particle, without suspecting that what is at work in its inconspicuousness is a powerful apparatus, which orchestrates language, signification, and the world at large. What particle might this be? The word not.
In Essay on Negation, Paolo Virno argues that the importance of the not is perhaps comparable only to that of money—that is, the universality of exchange. Negation is what separates verbal thought from silent cognitive operations, such as feelings and mental images. Speaking about what is not happening here and now, or about properties that are not referable to a given object, the human animal deactivates its original neuronal empathy, which is prelinguistic; it distances itself from the prescriptions of its own instinctual endowment and accesses a higher sociality, negotiated and unstable, which establishes the public sphere. In fact, the speaking animal soon learns that the negative statement does not amount to the linguistic double of unpleasant realities or destructive emotions: while it rejects them, negation also names them and thus includes them in social life. Virno sees negation as a crucial effect of civilization, one that is, however, also always exposed to further regressions. Taking his cue from a humble word, the author is capable of unfolding the unexpected phenomenology of the negating consciousness.
About the Author
Paolo Virno teaches philosophy of language at the University of Rome. His most recent works available in English include Convention and Materialism, An Essay on Negation, and When the World Becomes Flesh.
Lorenzo Chiesa is lecturer in philosophy at Newcastle University and professor at the European Graduate School.
"In spite of the wide spectrum of applications in which the term ‘not’ is being situated, the book of Virno maintains its unity of object,while the originality of its concept lies in its combinatory power of perspectives and abundance of details; fundamental as it may be in human conversation and thought, the‘negative’ definitely got the affirmative attention that it deserves!"